Wednesday, December 8, 2010
New friends, A New Trail, A Frosty Hike
Brrr! It was COLD today! But not too cold to join Evelyn Greene and four of her friends near the Hickory Hill ski area in Warrensburg, to explore a wooded trail I had never been on. Evelyn wanted to assess the trail's potential as a ski trail for when we finally get some snow, and I was happy to come along. Any outing with Evelyn is always an adventure, and her fellow nature-loving friends are just as much fun to hike with as she is. We parked at a beautiful bed-and- breakfast called Country Road Lodge, right on the banks of the Hudson, with a splendid view of the river and a rugged mountain across the way called Sugar Loaf.
It was thanks to the folks who own this B&B, Steve and Sandy Parisi, that we had access to the trail we hiked today, which starts on their property and eventually connects with Forest Preserve land. I think we probably walked about five miles in all, round trip.
As the above photo shows, we don't have any snow yet, but the "frazil" ice this section of the Hudson is famous for is already starting to form. Frazil ice is a kind of fluid ice that forms in rapidly moving water, and its separate clumps eventually stick together to dam the river, causing the water level to rise and deposit the ice in deep masses along the shore. This photo shows the still-separate rafts of slushy ice moving swiftly along with the current.
With the temperature down in the 20s today, ice was forming wherever there was water, taking on beautiful crystalline forms wherever it collected on stream- and riverside vegetation.
Long thin icicles, fed by seeps and springs, plunged down the steep vertical surfaces of rocky cliffs that rose to one side of our forested trail.
Most of the trail followed relatively level ground, with a few rises and dips and occasional deep ravines, where little streams came tumbling down to make their way toward the river.
Underfoot, the trail was lumpy and crunchy from the shards and needles of ice that formed in the soil.
Our crunching footfalls (not to mention our convivial chatter) would surely have scared off any resident wildlife, but this shredded tree indicates that a Black Bear was here not too long ago, clawing this dead snag apart in its search for inhabiting insects.
We found another dead tree in the process of being destroyed, but this time by some kind of growth that neither Evelyn nor I could identify. The tree, lying on the ground, had its upper surface covered with what looked like coal-black paint, pebbled with these pinhead-size pimply growths.
Is it a slime mold? Maybe a sac fungus? Nothing in my mushroom books really comes close, except maybe a sac fungus called Hypoxylon multiforme. I wish I had noticed which kind of tree it was growing on.
There's an awful lot of stuff in the woods I still don't know the names of, although with Evelyn as my guide I'm starting to recognize some liverworts and mosses. Luckily, she was there to correct me when I asked her what was that shaggy moss climbing the trunk of this tree. "Moss?! That's not a moss," she told me. "This is a liverwort!"
Well, it sure looked like a moss to me, until I peered at it closely. Then I could see the overlapping sacs that typify a liverwort's structure. This particular liverwort, I now know, is called Porella.
At least I was right when I called this a moss, these pretty, ferny, feathery fingers climbing the face of this rock. One of my hiking companions, Ann, remarked that it looked like a landscape painting of snowy hills surmounted by a spruce forest with a winter-dark sky behind.